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Wake Up: Innovation is Calling

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks how we can drive innovation and encourage organizations like the Knight Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute to help seed it.]

The best way to drive innovation is to expand the definition of innovation.

It needs to be more than new tools. To be sure, developing new apps or platforms is very cool. And these things often make journalism more efficient to produce and less expensive to distribute.

Often, too, we tend to label as innovation new skillsets (digital literacy), or mindsets (multi-platform production.)

I would like to see us all, not just the Knight Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute, embrace innovations in journalism conventions, processes, and relationships.

In convening a couple dozen young journalists eight weeks ago to “Re-Imagine Journalism,” we stepped into a mother lode of frustrations about commoditized news and “muffin-top” journalism (metrics-based stories). Let’s try some innovations that remove the tension between what people want and what they need.

In exploring the possibilities around collaboration vs. competition, J-Lab has come to realize you can incentivize surprising possibilities. One of our Networked Journalism pilot sites, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, just launched a website, Pipeline, to collaborate with other information partners on the biggest economic, business and environmental story of its times – the controversial removing of natural gas embedded in the Marcellus Shale.

And hot off the presses is news from another site. A survey to determine whether Seattle residents noticed or valued the network of 39 sites coalesced by the Seattle Times found astonishing recognition with very little promotion: 51 percent of the 996 respondents were aware of the partnership and 84 percent said it was a good thing. How do we raise the bar to take this to the next level?

Finally, while many journalism awards programs honor “good journalism,” I’d assert that it’s equally important to award innovative changes in the processes of journalism: How we do our stories.

Consider how last year’s Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations honored Sunlight Live for aligning multi-faceted streams of information to cover the health care summit. We honored ProPublica’s Distributed Reporting efforts for innovations in systematizing the process of crowdsourcing to execute their impressive stories. And we recognized Longshot Magazine for flipping an entire magazine in just 48 hours using little more than Twitter to collect 1,500 submissions in one day.

There can be innovation all around us if we just pay attention to, and sometimes incentivize, the possibilities. (And while you’re at it, apply for this year’s Knight-Batten awards. Deadline is June 6.)

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